Mind-sets in Software

Some personal history about software:

  • first software written by me in Fortran II-d on IBM 1620 (BCD computer made with germanium transistors and magnetic core memory), fall 1968,
  • first use of GNU/Linux by me, fall 2000, and
  • first realization that FLOSS was the right way to do IT, fall 2003.

My early career in IT was about number-crunching, using computers as programmable calculators on various data-sets related to science and technology. As a physicist, I began to write software to automate data-collection as well. I applied what I knew to personal activities like photography and ballistics and building my first house with “the little woman”.

My latest career was teaching and it was natural to use IT to collect and analyze data on the performance of students but also to use IT for teaching and later to teach students how to do IT for their lives. Before I used GNU/Linux I owned a variety of PCs, some home-built but I used DOS and Lose 3.1 on them. After a few years I was using Lose ’95 in a classroom and the damned machines were frequently crashing, just like Bill Gates’ experience (He laughed. I didn’t.). I switched to Caldera GNU/Linux and was suddenly and dramatically free of crashes.

I used GNU/Linux ever since in my classrooms wherever and whenever I could “get away” with it. That was the usual case. In 2003, however, things changed again. I was not only to teach computer-subjects to students but I had my first computer lab with 1:1 student:PC ratio. We started with Lose ’98 but I soon used my personal computer to run the whole lab by LTSP! The students and I were amazed to see 30 students running all their applications on one ordinary PC running GNU/Linux and not crashing. It was faster, too. Then, when I actually taught Computer Science, it dawned on me, that FLOSS was the right way to do IT.

Teaching/learning is identical to the FLOSS process of writing software/learning to write software. It’s the right way to do IT. Instead of having students watch, learn and write software as assignments. I gave them open-ended projects that could grow. I challenged them to explore different strategies, software designs and to share all their work with each other. Just like Metcalfe’s Law (the power of a network varies as the square of the number of nodes…) the power of a class of students using FLOSS this way is huge. Brilliant ideas emerge from classes of ordinary students. Students learn to analyze any problem into chunks of reasonable size. They learn what doesn’t work, what works better and to choose what works best in writing and using software. It’s a natural fit and brings the real world into the classroom making everything fit. The subject matter includes the students. It is not something artificial imposed on them.

We had some fun times over the years with FLOSS. Whether it was writing tic-tac-toe as a class or having contests to install LAMP quicker than the other guy, everything was easy and the students did most of the work. I lead, followed or got out of their way. Even students who were scheduled against their will to be in my class found interesting stuff to do. Nothing was sacred. We designed and built PCs, software, and networks of PCs, quicker, faster, and cheaper using FLOSS. It has been and continues to be a great adventure.

What set this off was another writer’s revelation of how he learned the exciting concept of changing things that it FLOSS. see Phil Shapiro – OpenSource.org – “The day my mind became open sourced”
It’s a good read and conveys the message clearly. FLOSS is the right way to do IT. It’s something the trolls who comment here have not learned. They haven’t really understood or valued the process. FLOSS is not something dark and evil inside a black box. FLOSS is a living thing interacting with its environment. Non-FREE software is another thing entirely. Some of the greatest frauds of my lifetime have been perpetrated by the likes of M$, seeking to put people and their PCs into sealed boxes so they can collect money for granting people the freedom they already have to run, examine, modify and distribute software.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux. Not only is it Free Software but the organization is very open and the APT package manager allows managing any number of PCs and servers much easier.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in Linux in Education, Teaching, technology. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Mind-sets in Software

  1. Clarence Moon wrote, “show where Microsoft has failed, over the past 30 years, to provide their customers with the means to protect their previous investments in time, money, and data creation, is not met.”

    Munich: M$ killed support for NT4, putting Munich in the lurch unless they shelled out $millions. They decided to get off the treadmill. Their investment went “Poof!” and the efforts they made to use that other OS became a burden to them having to convert and rationalize it all. I believe the value of that other OS is negative. It is not an investment for a business but a sinkhole for money.

  2. Clarence Moon says:

    At the end of the day, Mr. Pogson, my challenge for you to show where Microsoft has failed, over the past 30 years, to provide their customers with the means to protect their previous investments in time, money, and data creation, is not met. No such tragedies have occurred and the great majority of customers are completely satisfied with Microsoft support.

    As to ease of use, it is always possible to find someone who is lost in the sea of details needed to do anything with a computer. We all know people who are totally stumped and would have no worse of a life using Linux than they do using Windows. Such folk employ a rote ritual to get things done or else do not use computers for anything. However, the very existence of the billions of users worldwide demonstrates the fact that they are able to use Windows in some beneficial degree.

    In engineering terms that is “close enough” to an ideal.

  3. So, two of us had similar problems with Works files hanging around. Imagine the burden if I had one for each student for each reporting period in the last 20 years. Thankfully, my school relied on paper and did not keep the computer files…

  4. kozmcrae says:

    Clarence wrote:

    “Too bad she didn’t know anyone with sufficient skills to show her how to do it!”

    True, my knowledge and skills at using Microsoft’s crap are waning and no one else in the organization new of any work-around. No loss as far as I’m concerned. I’ll help when and where I can but I’m not going to get a migraine over it. I expected Word to read Works format. That was a normal expectation. It didn’t work. Microsoft dropped the ball again.

    Keep it up Clarence, there’s no way to make Microsoft look good when it comes to Works. You should know that.

  5. Clarence Moon wrote, “Too bad she didn’t know anyone with sufficient skills to show her how to do it!”

    Hey! I am told by many visitors here that stuff is easy with that other OS. The files in question were discovered after we migrated most machines to GNU/Linux and it turned out not all the machines had Works. It was a small job to retype the document, about half an hour and there were only two like that. I looked and could not find any installation media for Works, nor a licence… You should thank me for ridding the world of illegal copies.

  6. Clarence Moon says:

    A woman I worked with could not migrate her data out of Works.

    Too bad she didn’t know anyone with sufficient skills to show her how to do it!

  7. kozmcrae says:

    Clarence wrote:

    “The point was in regard to where the proprietary standard had caused any substantial loss of data and you seize on the idea that it might have been inconvenient for some, but cannot show where it actually happened.”

    “The point was in regard…”? What the Hell is that supposed to mean. That you have nothing to do with this discussion? That it’s the “point” that has a problem. That’s just bull shit Cult of Microsoft sloughing off your accountability for the words you wrote Clarence.

    Damn you Clarence. A woman I worked with could not migrate her data out of Works. Although, as you stated it was possible, the solution was not up front and present. Microsoft, for reasons of its own, did not make a simple format transfer a part of its MEGA FEATURE office suite. How freaking brain dead is that?!

    That is a real instance of someone leaving their data behind in Works and having to either recreate it in Word or to simple forget about it. Word should have had the ability to read the files from its little brother Works from the get go. That’s how it works in the realm of *normal* software development.

    Microsoft works in the realm of schizophrenic software development and they expect the world to be as screwed up as they are.

  8. Clarence Moon says:

    I am continually surprised at how you muffins miss the point of these postings in your hurry to find things to denigrate regarding Microsoft. The point was in regard to where the proprietary standard had caused any substantial loss of data and you seize on the idea that it might have been inconvenient for some, but cannot show where it actually happened.

    Using Works for a real business or even school probably never happened, much less any loss thereby. Mr Pogson’s anecdote about losing a few report cards aside, I claim that my suggestion that it has never happened in the mainstream is the truth and is totally validated by this response.

  9. oiaohm says:

    Clarence Moon the MS free converter of MS works files is buggy on particular versions of MS works files.

    There is a MS works importer that was reversed in Libreoffice that can work out better.

    Selling a solution does not equal having to lock end users data in formats you don’t properly documented and provide to the customer.

    Works 8 and 9 uses MS word so MS word format. The problem causing formates are Works 4.5 and before. Works 4.5 is only operational in Windows 7 Professional that has XP mode include(yes it has to run in the XP virtualization)

    “Newer versions of Word also import Works out of the box and the free converter is available for older versions.”

    This is a flat face lie basically. Only some versions of Works can New Word installs import. Not all of Works formats. Yes archives of documents do contain 20 year old + documents and undocumented formats become a real pain in ass.

    Closed source application maker does not equal have to lock users data in undocumented formats. Documentation of storage formats is kinda required.

    Even being open source does not mean the storage format has been documented fully. But at least you have the source to work threw to make the documentation for the format.

    MS Works was and still is a Classic example of storing you data in a non documented format the hell it can cause.

  10. kozmcrae says:

    Clarence wrote:

    “…simply migrate your Works installation to the new computer and use it the same as you did with the old computer.”

    Except you’re trying to migrate your work out of Works into a decent word processor.

    “Newer versions of Word also import Works out of the box and the free converter is available for older versions.”

    So finally Microsoft put that feature in that should have been in there all a long. What the Hell took them so long?

    “Apparently a sense of context is not your forte, kozmcrae!”

    What part of having your work stuck in a she it word processor that is incompatible with the rest of the world am I missing? Yes, I know you can convert with the special converter supplied free from Microsoft NOW. And yes, I know now that that feature is built into the current version of Word. But that didn’t help me five years ago when someone came to me with all their hard work stuck in Works.

    If Microsoft’s more advanced word processor (Word) couldn’t do a simple read from the more primitive Works, then what would? Why would they be incompatible? That would make no sense at all. Well, I had yet to learn how much nonsense Microsoft was willing to make. I know now. That’s why I’m talking to idiots like you.

  11. Clarence Moon says:

    Why…

    Apparently a sense of context is not your forte, kozmcrae! That is not such a surprise, given your general inability to understand most topics here.

    Mr. Pogson was discussing the likelihood of being unable to access one’s data due to a discontinuance of some software, presumably for a replacement system. He suggested that MS Works was an example of such a situation. He was wrong, though, based on readily available Microsoft products that will successfully recover the files. Also, MS Works itself will run under Windows 7, so there is no actual need to look for a substitute, simply migrate your Works installation to the new computer and use it the same as you did with the old computer.

    Newer versions of Word also import Works out of the box and the free converter is available for older versions. That’s called customer service!

  12. kozmcrae says:

    Clarence wrote:

    “There is a free converter available from Microsoft to move them to Word or else you can just continue to use your copy of MS Works.”

    Why is the converter separate instead of built into Word? It can’t be that big of a chunk of code. And how are we supposed to know about the existence of the converter. Why does Microsoft make the path to the solution INDIRECT. The solution should be up front along with all the other features of Word.

    Continuing to use Works is not a solution.

  13. Clarence Moon says:

    Try M$ Works files.

    Seems pretty simple to me, Mr. Pogson. There is a free converter available from Microsoft to move them to Word or else you can just continue to use your copy of MS Works. How is that a problem?

    The other way …

    Rather lame, Mr. Pogson. If Microsoft builds a better mousetrap that people use, it is not so terrible to charge those who then want one for an upgrade. You just don’t want to pay for anything. If you can get by without something, then you do not need it and can ignore those who think that they do. If it does something that you want to do, then you should be willing to pay for it.

  14. Clarence Moon, defending M$, wrote, “Do you know of any such thing where that is not the case?”

    Try M$ Works files. The last place they worked had several such documents used as report cards. We ended up typing them up fresh. It took an hour or so, time well spent escaping the lock-in.

    The other way M$ locks people in is by constantly changing file formats so newly-purchased PCs will spew files others cannot open and pressuring people to take another step on the Wintel treadmill.

  15. Clarence Moon says:

    They used an application called “First Class”

    Whose fault was that? It is not a Microsoft product, I think, nor is it anything we sell. There is a lot of junk for sale, I might agree, but that does not change the fact that there are successful products that have acquired millions or even a billion or more satisfied users who re-order continually and expect their needs to be satisfied with future versions of these commercial products.

    In another case it took months before the supplier could get the non-Free application to work at a school. Was that “service”? Nope. It’s lock-in

    I would not consider it to be either. Perhaps the buyer was desperate for the claimed benefits by the supplier and the supplier was a charlatan or perhaps the buyer was horribly unsophisticated. In either case, that is not the norm and it is not the case with Windows or any other high profile commercial product.

    So, my experience with that other OS in schools and two different non-Free applications provided by famous businesses has been an on-going disaster

    Nothing you relate here supports that conclusion, Mr. Pogson. For one thing, you said nothing at all in regard to what sort of loss of data or inability to access it occurred due to some action by Microsoft with any of their front line products. In the one case you mention, I don’t know anything about First Class or what it is used for, but from your description, it seems that you were balking at having to pay for an updated version to get whatever that version offered.

    I do not see where you could not have simply continued to use the version you had to continue to do whatever you were doing with it. Software can “wear out” and become passe’ the same as anything else. If you want the new thing, you must pay for it to get the improved benefits. If it is not worth the time or money, then stay with the old version.

    With Microsoft, it seems to me that all of their application data storage formats are easily enough referenced by FOSS programs or other commercial programs to allow vendors to offer automatic import and/or conversion of prior data. Do you know of any such thing where that is not the case?

  16. Clarence Moon wrote, “They demand that we protect their prior investment in time and money by offering continued compatibility with previous products. You call that “lock-in”, but you are wrong.”

    I was working for a larger organization once. They used an application called “First Class”, a glorified GUI for a bulletin-board instead of a web application for e-mail. Clients had to be installed on each PC for $0 but they charged plenty for a server in each school. The organization kept the old version going for years until it was “no longer supported”. In order to keep their e-mail archive, the organization had to pay for a licence and pay for installing the upgrade for each release over the years since, at each school… paying many $thousands in the process (the communities were “fly-in” so the organization had to pay for an “authorized person” to fly to each community, install the software repeatedly making a long-distance phone-call for each version…). Was that “service”? Twice, other organizations where I worked paid for a famous library (books) application. In one it took two years and me taking 15 minutes to install an equivalent FLOSS application before the supplier could get the non-Free software to work. In another case it took months before the supplier could get the non-Free application to work at a school. Was that “service”? Nope. It’s lock-in. All the consultants told the schools they needed that application because the consultants had never bothered to try the FLOSS application, KOHA.

    So, my experience with that other OS in schools and two different non-Free applications provided by famous businesses has been an on-going disaster, yet Clarence Moon calls what they do “service” instead of lock-in… What those businesses do is charge big money for the privilege of using the IT we can get for less with FLOSS and they arrange by fair means and foul to make it hard to do other than pay and keep on paying for what we have already paid.

  17. Clarence Moon says:

    In those days…

    In those days, people created “programs” to process data. Today they write scripts. That is not “software” in the sense of a modern application such as a word processor or game or an OS itself.

    Today, Microsoft and other companies such as my own sell solutions to problems and provide a benefit to our customers who continue to purchase our products to avail themselves of the latest features. They demand that we protect their prior investment in time and money by offering continued compatibility with previous products. You call that “lock-in”, but you are wrong. The correct term is “customer service”.

    The real puzzle is why they bother with a little site like mine

    A corollary to that is why you should think that they do bother, Mr. Pogson. Are you suggesting that the posters who challenge your ideas are sent by Microsoft?

  18. kozmcrae says:

    ernest wrote:

    “You invented the term. The least you could do is to stick with it for more than a dozen posts”

    The term is nearly a decade old and I didn’t invent it. It has meant different things throughout the years.

    Your days here are numbered I do believe ernest. You are willing to go too far to defend your beloved Microsoft.

    Tagging the competition as a bunch of murderers is too far. Some of us know are history around here. We don’t need to be reminded of who participated in what, when and exactly how. But you have decided to take the Microsoft path. That path is making someone else look worse to make Microsoft look better. It doesn’t work that way. Microsoft’s misdeeds are theirs to own no matter who else did what.

  19. ernest says:

    “I would think they would set up their own sites if they are so technically competent.”

    I’m not sure what “technical” competence applies here, Robert. My best, current, understanding is that you can sign up for a blog in about two minutes and be posting ten minutes later.

    Last time I looked, you don’t even need to be able to write a program in Pascal.

    But if you still have any doubts as to the technical competence of us trolls, do please visit my blog. You know where to find it, I think.

  20. ernest says:

    Hi, contemptible weenie! (Koz, that is. Robert has chops in the business. Koz, none visible.)

    “You really shouldn’t say things like that to me.”

    My apologies. From what I understood, Microsoft was supposed to be the big bad bully. You’re welcome to join them if you want.

    “You’re just helping me hone in on irritating the CoM more effectively.”

    It’s “the Cult of Microsoft,” dimwit.

    You invented the term. The least you could do is to stick with it for more than a dozen posts.

  21. M$ encourages these kinds of dependencies. They want consultants, journalists, chairmen of discussion groups and developers who “drink the Koolaid”. In many areas of life we see similar behaviour in history:

    The real puzzle is why they bother with a little site like mine. I would think they would set up their own sites if they are so technically competent.

  22. kozmcrae says:

    ernest wrote:

    “You really are a contemptible weenie, aren’t you, Koz?”

    Damn straight I am… To you that is.

    You really shouldn’t say things like that to me. You’re just helping me hone in on irritating the CoM more effectively.

    Why the hell should I try to please you? You’ll just turn around and spew bull she it FUD against FLOSS. Be happy with your beloved Microsoft but don’t try to foist it on others, you’re just giving the world a headache when you do that.

    It’s time for the world to move on from Microsoft. We don’t need you and others like you to prolong the agony.

  23. Clarence Moon wrote, “Periodically performing some task by running a script or even a FORTRAN program is not “software” in the sense of Windows or Word or Excel.

    I think it is rather the case where you yourself are inexperienced in the process and that lack of experience causes you to misinterpret almost everything that happens in the IT business, Mr. Pogson.”

    Presumptuous twit! I wrote/maintained the software I used. I referred to the source code. I shared software with other scientists. I used IBM and DEC mainframes and mini-computers. In those days, physics people were the main users of IT at the U of M because we had the huge data that would not fit in a box of punched cards. I continued to use IT personally and professionally ever since.

  24. Clarence Moon says:

    They haven’t really understood or valued the process.

    Periodically performing some task by running a script or even a FORTRAN program is not “software” in the sense of Windows or Word or Excel.

    I think it is rather the case where you yourself are inexperienced in the process and that lack of experience causes you to misinterpret almost everything that happens in the IT business, Mr. Pogson. I do not wish to testify as an expert, but I am a part of the general process of selling proprietary software to the world and I think that I do understand the process far better than you do.

    It is really a simple thing. We have created a useful software product that our customers rely on to do some critical functions for their business. It has a significant value to them and they buy it at a rate of well over a billion dollars a year for our combined products. We support our customers by providing a quality product that is continually improving over time. They expect and receive assurances that their needs will continue to be satisfied in the future and that they can rely on our continued presence.

    Microsoft, Apple, Intuit, Oracle, and many other suppliers of software do the same and work the exact same way. FOSS exists as a sort of lowest common denominator of performance to keep everyone innovating new and better ways of doing things.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating, eh? What we have is a situation wherein over a time span of 30 years the buying public has stayed with Microsoft as a product provider and has remained with them, evolving from the early days of MSDOS to today’s Windows 7 and 8. Along the way they have made MS Office the standard for business and a variety of other applications have become the leaders in their markets including development, server operations, and business infrastructure. It is silly to write that off as some sort of malicious persecution of the customer.

  25. ernest says:

    You really are a contemptible weenie, aren’t you, Koz?

    Do you have a single original thought in your head, or is your entire life devoted to sucking up to people and inventing weird concepts like “the Cult of Microsoft?”

    Seriously. Get a pet hamster. Watch it run around it in its little wheel.

    Even tropical fish would be a better occupation for somebody with your feeble grasp on reality.

  26. kozmcrae says:

    Robert Pogson wrote:

    “They haven’t really understood or valued the process.”

    Thank you. That simple statement says a lot. Now I understand why the Cult of Microsoft brain resists the basic concepts of FLOSS. They have a link missing in their chain.

    Their brains were installed assbackwards. They see beauty in being force fed Microsoft’s precepts and evil in hand picking from the bounty of the garden of FLOSS.

    They are not happy with simply being slaves to Microsoft. They must insure that everyone is a slave to Microsoft. If someone is saying good things about FLOSS, they go out of their way to stop them. They infest any blog that is pro-FLOSS and deface it with garbage.

    It’s not enough for them to live and let live. They must make others live as they live, in the grip of Microsoft.

Leave a Reply